Accountability buddies: a proposed system

by [anonymous]4 min read10th Jul 201914 comments

36

Community infrastructureScalably using labourRequests (open)Get involvedCommunity
Frontpage

tl;dr Perhaps the most valuable 15 minutes of your week could soon be having someone ask you: What are your frogs? How will you eat them? How can we improve this process?

[edit: originally posted July 2018]

Background

Accountability buddies and coaching partnerships seem to be popular in this community. In my case, I think my "check-ins" are often (perhaps usually) the most valuable 30 minutes of my week. Of course, it's not a process that works for everyone, for example if you don't have many "frogs" (important tasks that you avoid) or if you rarely find it useful to involve other people in your strategy for "eating" (completing) them. But sometimes the process fails to deliver for fixable reasons like either party failing to commit to the process, or having a long list of mostly irrelevant questions. I want to encourage some of you to try it (again), with perhaps a stronger starting point than you would otherwise have.

Proposed (initial) system

Step 1: Buddy up

Find someone who wants to try this with you. You don't need to already know each other but you do both need to commit to trying this properly.

Step 2: Book a call

Pick a day and time for the first call, reserving 30 minutes.

Step 3: Call

On said call, ask each other:

Question 1: "Off the top of your head, what are the 1-3 most important things you could do this week for your long-term goals that you're worried you won't do?"

Question 2: "How can we increase the chance that you'll do them?"

Question 3: "Spend at least 30 seconds thinking about how we can improve this process."

Step 4: Repeat

By default, repeat this call(/message where much more convenient) at the same time the following week and every week from now on, but of course adapt the process according to your answers to "Question" 3.

A few further tips

On Step 1: the EA life coaching exchange Facebook group might be a good place to look

On Step 2.5: it might be worth adding in some preparation time for the call

On Step 3, Question 2:

  • a simple, popular strategy here is simply adding the question "How did last week go?" to the list
  • another particularly effective strategy seems to be creating arbitrary deadlines for starting / spending x minutes on / completing a task or sub-task, with token payments (my current range is 50p-£10) if you miss them; you can also add backup deadlines for if and when you miss the first ones
  • [edit: many EA folk use goal-and-task-tracking tool Complice, which lets you share a link like this with updates on your public goals]
  • you might want to work on this answer until you get to the point where you'd be surprised if, come your next call, you hadn't completed the tasks

[edit: On Step 3, Question 3:

  • if you're not already periodically prioritising/reviewing your life on longer time frames (e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually), you could add it to this process, perhaps including a more substantial review of the process itself
  • you might like to turn any regularly occurring frogs into their own questions (e.g. "How many gym sessions did you manage last week? How can we increase the chance you'll reach your target this week?")]

Considerations regarding the extent to which you should take my advice here

  • The closest I've had to official training in this space is a taster weekend from The Coaching Academy last year, a productivity session from Smarter Not Harder last year (where I think I learnt far more about how poor other professionals' productivity habits are than I learnt about how to be more productive) and some early CFAR sessions in 2013.
  • The most relevant experience I have is providing regular accountability/coaching for six friends in the EA community and having regular check-ins for myself[1].
  • I suspect that professional life coaches have a strong financial incentive to add a lot of decoration and fluff to both their sessions and to any material they publish to share their insights. I'd expect much less of this in a community so committed to cooperation, transparency, testing-and-learning, actually providing value and efficiency. I've stripped my recommended system down to the bare bones of what I think is most useful.
  • The structure is minimal and has tailoring built in, so there's not much need to trust my ideas on what might work for you.
  • It takes maybe an hour in total to test folks, come on, why are you even reading this section :P

Other suggestions?

I know that many of you have experimented with and/or researched this. Please share insights :-) I can always edit the post to include any that seem particularly valuable.

____________________________________________________________________________________

[1]Going from what I expect to have been the least to the most useful:

1. One has become a fortnightly "How's [that long-term project] coming along?" of, I suspect, little value. [edit, July 2019: no longer happening]

2. I used something like the proposed system above for five months with another friend who, when I suggested we stop, said that he found it useful.

3. One started with my friend listing things he wanted to improve on, and us prioritising the list together. We followed something close to the system above for five months, recording goals on a shared WorkFlowy space, and then stopped when he felt that there was nothing he strongly wanted to work on any more. Seemed somewhat useful.

4. Another has been going for eight months, using the basic system above (although we added a mid-week nudge recently) and recording goals on a shared Jira space. Seems to be quite valuable. [edit, July 2019: no longer happening]

5. Another has been going for six months, using questions my friend developed with another accountability buddy. [edit, July 2019: still going]

6. I've been doing this as a two-way process with another friend for two years. Our lists of questions have evolved into something very different from each other, from our original list and from the basic list above, and they take about 30 minutes each to get through. If you're curious, the latest iteration of my questions are as follows (edited for clarity and removing questions that rely on particular features of my friend):

  • PRIORITIES

  • Proactively, what are your top 1-3 EA frogs this week (inc. personal growth)? Do I have ideas?

  • Proactively, what are your top 1-3 social obligation frogs this week?

  • (Optional) What's your "pick 'n' mix" of tasks for the rest of the week?

  • PERFORMANCE

  • How much do you owe me from last week?

  • (Optional) Can you achieve more with less this week (what can you delegate/drop/80:20)? Do I have ideas?

  • (Optional) What made you less/more productive than usual last week?

  • Is there anything else you should do to make you do your check-in next week and book your next advisor meeting? (£10 if I don't check-in next Friday? £5 if I haven't booked an advisor meeting by next Friday?)

  • How can you increase the chance of eating your EA frogs?

  • BONUS (optional and no prep required) Would you be surprised if you were more/less effective this week? (Do you want to discuss?) What are you grateful for? What are you proud of? What are you excited by coming up at work?

  • PROCESS Are there ways of improving these questions or this process?

[edit, July 2019: his still going, reduced to monthly; mine no longer happening now that I'm on holiday/retirement from EA]

36

14 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:48 AM
New Comment

I like this a lot.

Random plug: I know a lot of EAs (including myself) use goal-and-task-tracking tool Complice; you can assign an accountability partner who sees your progress (and you see theirs). You can also share a link like this that lets anyone get updates on your public goals, which could potentially be quite motivating.

There's also the EA Workspace, a virtual pomodoro coworking room on Complice. It hasn't been that active lately but maybe this new influx of people will reinvigorate it.

(I'm the creator of Complice (and also an effective altruist!) I found this EA forum post from seeing a bunch of new people sign up for Complice citing this as the source.)

Do you follow a Getting Things Done framework? If so, how does this fit in? Do you end up duplicating yourself?

[-][anonymous]3y 0

Ooo yes good shout. I'll include it at some point.

I invite anyone looking to get an accountability partner to fill this form: https://bit.ly/AccountabilityBuddies.

Edit: the survey is now closed; if you would like to find an accountability partner, I suggest posting here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1757073531018701/.

Can you give us more details on what's going to happen afterwards? Will you personally try to match up pairs of people? Will this end up as a semi-public list?

I've received 28 applications. I just sent the emails to each pair of participants. I mostly matched people by timezone and desired frequency. The list will not be made public (unless everyone consent to that, and some people think it would be useful).

Hey Holly! Since I read this post I found an accountability partner a bit later. The system works well and we've built it out according to our own needs, but I like that you've kept it simple. A lot of systems and lifehacks are very specific which makes them a pain to implement.

So thank you and good job! :)

IF I'd make an addition to your advice, it would probably be: plan a brief evaluation after x (3? 6?) months to take a bigger picture:

  • Has the system actually helped you accomplish things, rather than just being productive?
  • How do you like the role of each other? Would you like them to be more strict? Would you like them to focus on specific questions or pitfalls? (E.g. I asked my buddy to guard my from taking on too many responsibilities - when I plan a new project she asks me "ok, so what are you going to drop to make place for it?")

Thanks for posting, this seems worth doing. I've set up a 30 minute meeting with a friend!

[-][anonymous]3y 0

Thanks for the feedback, hope it goes well :-)

I also find it useful to report my accomplishments to my accountability partner by email on a daily basis. It makes me more mindful during the day as to whether what I'm doing is working toward my goals.

I think an alternative system that would be more difficult to set up but likely more effective if successful would be an accountability team. The meetings would be similar to this but with more people--a google hangouts where everyone takes turns stating what they did and didn't get done last week and what they intend to do next week. Not sure about other people but I would feel more pressure to complete my tasks if I had to admit 'failure' in front of a group rather than one person. The team could have a page online somewhere where everyone's current intentions would be posted, and maybe people could even livestream themselves working on the page if they committed to working on something at a particular time (this would be helpful to me because I like having that kind of commitment). Then people could be assigned buddies within the group to bug them about their intentions if they want.

This may be off topic, and I'm only connected to EA community from reading online resources, and having attended one EA discussion on 'diversity and inclusion in EA', and one EA group hike locally--interesting people, but I didn't make any real continuing connections, perhaps because I come from a different tradition.

One of my main college and later (independent, mostly WWW based ,  and  continuing fields of study has been 'evolution of cooperation' and altruism from a biological and cultural evolutionary perspective which is slightly different from what most people think of as altruism.  Also most of my effort devoted towards 'doing good better' has been in community groups dealing with poverty , health and substance abuse problems, and the environment.  Many of those groups are not very effective. They have lots of goals, but usually at best only achieve a few of them. 

I am paired with an accountability buddy and contacted her but really am not expecting anything---if something works out, fine, if it doesn't , thats the way it is.

One of my goals which I may not achieve is to see what processes are effective and for who (similar to asking what medical treatments are effective and for who, or what college tracks are effective for people having a happy and productive life, and for who--i know people with all kinds of degrees and careers and relationships, and some are happy and some aren't.
This is a 'matching problem' as they say in fields like math and computer science.

I wonder if there is a way to find an accountability buddy who is an appropriate match--I think it means one needs to have compatible and complementary goals. (Stalin, Hitler , Churchhill and FDR from a utopian view were not matches made in heaven. )

This is a little old, but it's a similar concept with far higher level of investment: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/GfRKvER8PWcMj6bbM/sidekick-matchmaking